LEXINGTON, KY - While any number of problems can cause Mark Fields sleepless nights, at the top of the list is AB 1493, a proposed mandate from the California Air Resources Board that would allow the state to set stricter vehicle-emission regulations.

Should AB 1493 be enacted, it would greatly inhibit the types of vehicles auto makers could sell in the country's largest market, Ford Motor Co.'s president-The Americas, tells Ward's on the sidelines of the annual Global Automotive Conference here.

“We're for improving fuel economy and reducing emissions, but we're for doing it at the national level and not the state level,” Fields says of Ford. “That's just a quilt-work of regulations that would not only put a huge burden on all of the OEMs but also restrict our ability to sell vehicles that customers want.”

And should California pass its own regulations, he says other states surely will follow suit. A better strategy is to continue to develop new technologies to reduce emissions and improve fuel economy.

Fields declines to reveal whether Ford is on track to meet new federal corporate average fuel economy legislation mandating a fleet average of 35 mpg (6.7 L/100 km) for new cars and trucks sold in the U.S. by 2020.

In a new development, the U.S. Department of Transportation Tuesday proposed boosting fuel efficiency 25% by 2015, which represents the first step in a broader effort to raise CAFE standards for passenger cars and light trucks over the next decade.

Fields says Ford continues to focus on increasing the number of vehicles that can run on flex fuels, such as E85, a mixture of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline.

Regarding media reports claiming the increased production of corn-based ethanol is responsible for rising food prices, as well as food shortages in developing nations, Fields says flex fuels are just one possible alternative to gasoline.

“We think flex fuels are a piece of the landscape but not the total answer,” he says. “It's going to be in conjunction with hybrids, clean diesels and more fuel-efficient gas engines. (Ethanol is) going to be part of the marketplace, and we'll put it out as we have, and as we see the demand for it.”

Meanwhile, employee morale at Ford is starting to improve, Fields says, adding the auto maker puts a high priority on keeping workers informed of the auto maker's ongoing turnaround plan, as well as the industry at large.

“I don't think you can ever let up on getting the message throughout the organization,” he says. “It has to be on a continuous basis, because it's always easy as a management team to say, 'I've given a speech; everybody understands.' You have to give it over and over again.

“The good news is everybody is rolling in the right direction for now.”

bpope@wardsauto.com